The shame of Guantanamo gets even greater

Under a Freedom of Information Act request, the US government has finally released the names of the 166 detainees it is holding at Guantanamo, including 46 whom it has condemned to permanent incarceration without trial.

The US government has finally released the names of 46 men being held in Guantánamo under the classification of “indefinite detainees” – terror suspects deemed too dangerous to release or move yet impossible to try in a civilian or even military court for reasons of inadequate or tainted evidence.

The group of captives stuck in this legal wilderness has been one of the most controversial aspects of the detention camp. The US justifies their existence through a range of explanations that include the fact that they were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques that have been denounced as a form of torture, rendering their evidence inadmissible in court.

This is truly astonishing on so many levels. One is that simply getting the names of the detainees had to be forced from the government. The idea of people being held in secret captivity and their families not being informed used to be one of the notorious features of Latin American dictatorships. The second is that they say they will hold some of the 46 people indefinitely because they were tortured and the evidence is thus ‘tainted’. In other words, they first wrong them by torturing them, and then they use the fact of torture to wrong them again by holding them in prison indefinitely.

The only words to describe these actions are barbaric and lawless. People have the right to a fair and speedy trial. If you cannot provide that, then you have to let them go. It is as simple as that. If you don’t agree with that, then why not apply that same principle to everyday law enforcement and simply arrest, torture, and lock up indefinitely those people whom the police suspect have committed murders but do not have the evidence to convict? Or those people whom the police and prosecutors felt escaped conviction on a technicality? Why not bring back vigilante justice in all its forms?

Meanwhile an article in the New England Journal of Medicine says that Guantanamo has become a ‘medical ethics free zone’ and calls upon doctors to not participate in the force-feeding of hunger strikers.

In an interview, Dr Annas said the force-feeding went against international standards of medical ethics. He said that a hunger strike was a legitimate form of protest – not an attempt to commit suicide – and that the portrayal of doctors at Guantánamo as ethically intervening to preserve life was wrong. “That is at the core of this. These people are not trying to commit suicide. They are risking death to make a political point,” he said.

That is backed up by the World Medical Association, which has declared that force-feeding hunger strikers is “never ethically acceptable”.

The claim by Obama supporters that he wanted to close Guantanamo but is being prevented by the Republicans in Congress is only partially true. What Obama is proposing is to essentially move the prisoners to facilities within the continental US without any substantial change in their status, essentially creating a Guantanamo North. This may result in a partial improvement since the fact that Guantanamo is offshore has helped foster the mentality that it is a law-free zone where anything goes.

But even this limited move is freaking out some people who, for no rational reason, seem to think that having alleged terrorists in a prison in the US poses a greater threat than having (say) serial murderers there, not to mention the many murderers who have escaped capture and roam the streets freely.

Jason Leopold spent five days at Guantanamo to see the effects of the hunger strike and writes about what he saw, at least the parts that he was allowed to see.

What I discovered was that it is impossible to arrive at any reliable truth of the matter, especially when access to the prisoners is prohibited.

Guantanamo tours are carefully scripted and well-choreographed to provide the military an opportunity to impress upon the media their own reality of life inside the wire; and it does not include any of the recent stories of abuse the prisoners have related to their attorneys since the start of their protest.

He describes the various parts of the camp that have different levels of treatment depending on the compliance of the prisoners and ends with Camp X-Ray, the place where the prisoners were housed initially in 2002 and consisted of wire cages open to all the elements. That part is mercifully not no longer used.

Gunatanamo was never a good place but clearly the conditions have deteriorated in the recent past with the hunger strike, and relations between the prisoners and security staff are terrible with prisoners hurling abuse (and worse) at the guards and the guards retaliating against them.